Friday, 14 November 2014

Getting Colder by Amanda Coe

They were colour-supplement darlings of the 1980s: Patrick, the sexy, ferocious young playwright, scourge of an enthralled establishment, and Sara, who abandoned her two children to fulfil her destiny as Patrick's beautiful, devoted wife and muse.
Thirty-five years later, Sara's death leaves Patrick alone in their crumbling house in Cornwall, with his whisky, his writer's block and his undimmed rage against the world. But bereavement is no respecter of life's estrangements, and Sara's children, Louise and Nigel, are now adults, with memories, questions and agendas of their own.

What was their mother really like? Why did she leave them? What has she left them? And how can Patrick carry on without the love of his life?

Getting Colder was published by Virago on 6 November 2014 and is Amanda Coe's second novel. I reviewed her first book; What They Do In The Dark here on Random Things in September 2011.

The cover blurb suggests that Getting Colder is 'savagely funny and perceptive'. Whilst I agree that this story is incredibly perceptive, for me it was a very sad story with characters and a plot that I would really find difficult to class as 'funny'.

When I read What They Do In The Dark three years ago I was left reeling by the authenticity of Amanda Coe's writing, set as it is in both a setting and an era that is really familiar to me. Despite the fact that it's over three years since I read it, the story had stayed with me. I was expecting more of the same from Coe in Getting Colder. This isn't the same, not by any means, it feels more grown up, mature and more in depth. The shocks are there, but are more subtle and the characters are more intense with a depth that adds volumes to the plot.

This is a story about a family. An unusual family who have drifted apart over the years but are brought together when the mother dies. Sara left her two children Nigel and Louise thirty-five years ago, she met and fell in love with Patrick, was swept away by his glamour and fame, the arty world that he occupied. Her two children were damaged by this, but have also hankered for their mother's love.

Nigel and Louise arrive at the home that Sara shared with Patrick for many years. A home that was always know to them as 'the house', not a second home for them, or a place of happy memories. Patrick seems distraught by Sara's death, he's loud, brash, grumpy, rude and unwelcoming. Nigel is cautious, wary and just a little frightened of Patrick. Louise is older and fatter, a mother of two, unsure of herself and desperately looking for some signs that her mother did love her, did miss her, did regret what she did.

Added to this mix of unhappy, not very pleasant characters is Mia. Mia arrived unexpectedly, hoping to interview Patrick, unaware that Sara has died. Mia is a grasping dreamer, she sees opportunity in the most unlikely of places, she is a schemer and a planner, but even Mia finds the melancholy air of Patrick's house and it's visitors very hard to bear.

Getting Colder is not a fast-paced story, it gently unfolds to reveal the inner feelings of each of the characters. Don't expect to love any of the characters, with the exception of Louise's son Jamie, I certainly didn't like any of them. I'm not sure that the reader is expected to like the characters, and it takes nothing away from this excellent story - who says that all characters should be warm and friendly and likeable anyway?

This is an exploration of fractured family relationships, it looks at ego and self-perception and the fragility of the human being. Moving slowly and quite gently, Getting Colder is cleverly and quite beautifully written.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review

Amanda Coe’s screenwriting credits include ShamelessMargot, about Margot Fonteyn and Nureyev, and As If, an acclaimed teen drama series. 
In 2013 she won a BAFTA for the BBC Four adaptation of John Braine’s Room at the Top, and she is currently working on a pilot for HBO. 
Her first novel, What They Do in the Dark, was published by Virago in 2011. 
Her latest, Getting Colder, also from Virago, is a savagely sharp survey of decades of family havoc wrought by a washed-up angry playwright.

Follow her on Twitter @amandjacoe

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